Missions

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After attending the 2013 Breakthrough Partners Network Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Christophe Mbonyingabo shares his reflections on the experience. Christophe left the conference with the goal of uniting individuals together through building trusting relationships to create sustainable, lasting partnerships. Additionally, Christophe now plans to mobilize resources to initiate change from the inside, using what God has blessed their community with, rather than relying on external sources of change.

See his response here:

Last month, on the final morning of the Breakthrough Partners Network conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,  a community leader from Nairobi stood up to address the attendees who had gathered for the week. He referenced the recent Kenyan election and related how they had been given the right to choose well those they wanted in leadership. “Now, will we exercise our rights as community leaders?  Too long,” he said, “Africans have looked to the outside, to NGOs, foreign aid programs, to be the answer for change.” He finished by saying that Africans themselves have been given responsibility for change. Will Africans accept it and move forward?

How do we help bring about profound change to the broken, distressed communities in Africa? For Breakthrough Partners President Gary Edmonds, the answer lies in the belief that God has already planted leaders in these communities. For over a decade, Gary and Breakthrough have been meeting with community leaders in Africa who have invited them to come and act as coaches, as they lead their communities. Breakthrough terms these men and women “Local Community Catalysts,” or LCCs, people who have networks in their communities and the ability to catalyze people and unite their neighbors to work together for the transformation and common good of the whole community.

As requests for coaching and consulting streamed in from LCCs, Breakthrough decided a new plan was needed to accelerate the process of consulting assistance; the Breakthrough Partners Network was born. Several months later the Breakthrough Partners coaching team assembled in Ethiopia, alongside 30 LCCs from all over the continent. Leaders from various African countries shared their expertise, sparking an unprecedented level of bonding, unity, support and relationship between the leaders. Over the five days of the gathering, the vision of what God is doing in Africa and where that vision is spreading rose clearly out of the swirl of thoughts and ideas, and was held in firm ownership by these African leaders. 

In reflecting on this conference, Gary emphatically rested his hope for the future of Africa on one simple truth: that God has planted a seed of greatness within these African LCCs. They possess humility, vision, willingness, and the courage to seek the well being of others in their community. Above all, they possess ownership. One can see in these leaders the recognition of the mandate God has handed them and their desire to shoulder the responsibility and look forward to the actions they will take to exercise their duty to bring about change. 

Is Africa ready for local ownership and change? Gary answered with this parallel: “After years of wandering, with God providing the daily manna and leading, God said: ‘Now pack your bags; we’re crossing the Jordan to settle the land.’ This means from tomorrow on, there is no more manna. You take responsibility.”

To African leaders, God is saying the time is now for Africa to be led by Africans.

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ManWithSacksIn over 200 years of missions and an average of $20 billion in AID and RELIEF efforts given annually for the past several decades, Africa remains a complicated web of poverty, injustice, faction, corruption, and opposing religious ideologies. Why? Is God powerless to change this? Is money, education and medicine the wrong focus? What is at the heart of this perceived failure? In the cleared sections of jungle in Congo DR and in hundreds of other places on the continent of Africa, rusting tractors, abandoned wells, and dilapidated fish farms whisper the sad story to those who have ears to hear. Unsustainable infrastructures have been imported and are now in various states of disrepair. In our most compassionate, loving, and Christ-like manner we have created an insatiable thief that has robbed so many impoverished people of dignity and the desire to dream, initiate, and be creative in finding  their own solutions to the spiritual and economic complexities of Africa and other places on the planet. We have created DEPENDENCY on Western aid and expertise and in many ways have created artificial environments dependent on the methodology of our imported church or mission philosophy that fall apart after we leave.

Steve Saint, whose father was martyred with four other men trying to make contact with the Waodoni (Auca) people of Peru in 1956, had strong words to say against some of our most common missional mindsets. In a September 2011 article in the Journal for the U.S. Center for World Missions he said: 

Our goal in planting Christ’s church where it doesn’t exist must be to produce churches that are self-propagating, self-governing and self-supporting; especially where the members come from a background of hopelessness, powerlessness and inadequate resources. The most important aspect of church planting is whatever that fledgling congregation needs most. In a growing number of cases, the greatest need new churches have is to become self-supporting.

Giving handouts creates more problems than it solves. It is like casting out demons with long leases. Break the lease or they will come back and bring more roommates (Lk 11:24–26). Where the Church is being established among people that perceive themselves as powerless, there is a great need for deep discipleship, wrestling with the roots of poverty at the community level rather than concentrating on the individual.

Financial help that does not develop sustainable, local, financial self-sufficiency is much more likely to create poverty than it is to meet real needs. Until we realize that we can’t overcome poverty with handouts, we will never be much help in completing Christ’s Great Commission.” (Click here to read the article)

It is time for a major breakthrough in how we think and thus act in terms of helping to establish and support the Church and impoverished communities in some of these difficult contexts. God has given us amazing hearts to help those in need, and this is so beautiful! In those cases of widespread catastrophe we must first stop the bleeding. But very quickly we must transfer the triage and care to the local community or they will become overly dependent on our solutions and we will become unnecessarily entrenched. In most cases, being part of the solution requires us to resist the knee jerk reaction to give benevolently when a more long-term approach of empowerment will bring much more independence and creative solutions to the local community. We must ask ourselves, “What is the potential long-term harm or benefit from our current missional approach?” “Who is in perceived leadership right now?” “How am I raising up indigenous leadership to be fully capable to do what I am now doing?” “How is my approach creating dependency?”

Please feel free to respond to these weekly Breakthroughs in Missional Thinking. We need your voice in this ongoing dialogue about how the Christian Church engages in missions in this rapidly changing world and culture.

Blessings,
Mark Mielbrecht
Director of Global Leadership Development

FeetI am sure we all resonate with the words of the prophet Isaiah “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News…”  However, in this world of so much political, economic, social and ideological unrest, the question of how we bring that Good News must be re-visited. Is a traditional missional approach based primarily on proclamation evangelism, still putting our best “foot” forward?  I think we need to take a hard look at how we can win the right to be heard in cultures with a spiritual ideology very different from our own.  What does it mean to develop long-term social credibility so that your proclamation will one day be welcomed and your thoughts and ideas embraced, because you have established the trusting relationships of the community at large?

In the remote, impoverished and civil war-torn region of Ouelle, Ivory Coast, one of our indigenous partners gathered 870 women from twenty-one different villages and began a savings and credit association. They were able to help each other with micro-loans and many small businesses began to flourish.  Through Dominique’s leadership these women developed a business plan to purchase, use, and maintain a grain mill which cut their manual labor of grinding grain from five hours down to five minutes per day.  With this dramatic increase in available time, these women can now sell excess flour, provide for their children’s medical needs, and begin a literacy program where 600 illiterate women and their children are now learning to read and write using the Bible as their textbook.

The astounding fact is that only 2% of these women were Christians when they first gathered.  63% were animists, and 35% were Muslim.  They came together because they all shared the same real physical needs, and this new community gave them very tangible ways to not only survive, but to learn and grow, and to seek the peace and prosperity of those around them.  They are all now reading and hearing the Good News on a daily basis and have experienced Christ, incarnationally through Dominique and the other believers whom they are now in relationship with.

As you consider your own ministry context, what would it look like to enter your target community in an incarnational way?  How beautiful are your feet to the community in which you are ministering?   What is your “lead foot”, and how are you winning the right to be heard?  This is obviously a long-term approach, and doesn’t make for impressive evangelism statistics, in the beginning…  However, I believe wholeheartedly that the eventual results will be immeasurably more than we can possibly imagine and the Kingdom of God will advance in ways that are truly transforming the entire community!  

Please feel free to respond to these weekly Breakthroughs in Missional Thinking, we need your voice in this ongoing dialogue about how the Christian Church engages in missions in this rapidly changing world and culture.

Blessings,
Mark Mielbrecht
Director of Global Leadership Development

HeartLiving amongst the terrible tragedy of the Aids epidemic, a South African pastor began a ministry to mobilize many communities to train and educate their vulnerable young people about the consequences of HIV, unprotected sexual activity, and pregnancy.  After these programs had been established the rate of pregnancies and sexual relations actually increased.  In disbelief, the founding pastor asked the question, “Haven’t they been educated!?”  He started interviewing the kids as to why the problems had actually increased with the provided training and was struck by one young girl’s reply.  “There are no jobs, no housing, we have no hope for a better life… Even though we know better, there is no reason to do anything different.  Maybe if I get aids I’ll get out of this hell-hole sooner!”

When people live in a state of despair and without hope, they often move to a state of despondence and fatalism where they don’t care about the consequences of their behavior.  In these kinds of desperate environments a missional approach of simply training, educating, giving money or establishing programs will not produce long term results.  Only through the establishment of trusting relationships and genuine friendship and love can these systemic issues of despair and hopelessness really be addressed resulting in measurable improvements over time.  When the local Church is empowered to really act as neighbors, and fathers and mothers to these vulnerable populations within a given community, it can stand alongside those in need as “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3b)

As you consider your missional approach to providing training, education, or in funding programs overseas, how are you empowering the local church to be in loving relationship with the beneficiaries?  How is your aid and relief approach connected to indigenous agencies who have established relational approaches for walking long-term with the recipients of your aid?  What changes in your approach might be needed at this point to ensure that trusting relationships and hope will be there long after you are gone?     

Please feel free to respond to these weekly Breakthroughs in Missional Thinking; we need your voice in this ongoing dialogue about how the Christian Church engages in missions in this rapidly changing world and culture.

Blessings,

Mark Mielbrecht
Director of Global Leadership Development

SwordWould you ever consider letting someone do surgery on you with a sword?  Of course not!  Surgery is a very delicate procedure which requires precise, knowledgeable, pre-meditated cuts with the specialized blade of a scalpel.  Not the wide-sweeping, indiscriminate chops of a sword.  I submit to you that in order to be truly helpful in an at-risk or distressed community, the same kind of delicate, precise, knowledgeable care must be taken in your missional approach.  What might feel good to us, and seem to be the right thing to do in our own culture or ministry philosophy, could have disastrous results when exported into another community context.

A friend of Breakthrough Partners told us this story about an aid and relief effort by four different churches in Minneapolis.  With compassionate hearts and a desire to help bring an end to the suffering in Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010, they mounted a campaign to ask everyone who bought peanut butter to buy two.  One jar for their own family and one they could donate to fill a shipping container to send to Haiti.  Everyone loves peanut butter, right?  There was just one unforeseen problem.  One of the only viable and widely grown crops for Haitian farmers in the aftermath of the destruction was peanuts.  By having thousands of jars of free peanut butter flood the Haitian distribution centers, the local market was swamped and the price of peanuts plummeted.  Unfortunately, these well-meaning churches began destroying a crucial piece to Haiti’s economic recovery without even knowing it!  

How are our well-intentioned efforts affecting those we wish to help?  How are we killing others with indiscriminate kindness?   How can we learn what is really needed in a given context?  As we know, a surgeon has diagnosed the risks and benefits of the medical procedure before he makes a single cut with the scalpel blade.  How can our approach be delicate, precise and knowledgeable in ways that will help and not hurt them?  Are we using a scalpel or a sword in our missional approach?  

Please feel free to respond to these weekly Breakthroughs in Missional Thinking, we need your voice in this ongoing dialogue about how the Christian Church engages in Missions in this rapidly changing world and culture.

Blessings,

Mark Mielbrecht
Director of Global Leadership Development

RobinsIt is our hope that this collection of thoughts, ideas, rants, stories and models for doing missions will generate more innovative and necessary engagement to how we reach out and participate in Kingdom work for the sake of the nations.  The time has come to re-think how we engage, interact with, and resource those whom we are working with in a variety of contexts.  Leadership development that empowers those whom God has already raised up in their own cultures and contexts must be of paramount importance. 

Furthermore, sustainable spiritual, economic, and societal practices that are owned and adapted by indigenous missional leaders must be developed in ways that bring widespread life and vitality to a community, not dependence.  For far too long many missional paradigms can be illustrated by the robin and her nested young in the above photo.  Without the constant feeding and care by the mature robin, the blind and helpless young will simply perish.  They are absolutely dependent on her unabated procurement of more resources.  How does this picture represent some of the missional relationships that you are aware of?  How has your church or mission organization added to the dependency of the foreign mission field on Western aid and relief?  How have you begun to think of ways to empower local missional contexts to develop their own solutions to the needs of their own communities?

Please feel free to respond to these weekly Breakthroughs in Missional Thinking; we need your voice in this ongoing dialogue about how the Christian Church engages in missions in this rapidly changing world and culture.

Blessings,
Mark Mielbrecht
Director of Global Leadership Development